Can you paint over lead paint? And is it safe?

The very short answer is that yes, you can paint over lead-based paint if you want, and it can help make deteriorated paint safe, but you should know that there are in fact likely options that are significantly better for you to pursue than simply adding a layer of paint on top of it. 

While it may be an effective remediation technique when it is done right, it needs to be done right, and you can’t just do it with any type of paint you want. You can’t simply go to your local Home Depot and pick up the cheapest type of paint, spend an afternoon and get it done. It just isn’t quite that simple. 

However, the good news is that it can be done. The better news is that we have created a very extensive article on the topic that you might just want to read. 

While Check4Lead may be in the business of ultimately selling lead test kits to homeowners and contractors alike, we also have a very big section of different topics that we have covered that may help you. 

In order to figure out how you would go about paint over lead paint, go check out this article that explains how to encapsulate the dangerous paint. We put a lot of time and effort into it, and it has recently been increasing significantly in popularity, which is an achievement we are very proud of. 

If you are capable of it, our recommendation is still always to make sure that you are removing lead paint wherever it is possible, along with all the various safety measures that need to be taken to not just make sure that you are staying protected while you’re performing the work, but that you are doing as much as possible to limit the spread of the dust, which is what you will be inhaling if you aren’t wearing the adequate respirator that will help you get the job done. There’s a whole section and article we have written that goes into a great deal of detail on how you can remove the paint. It touches on many of the different things you need to be aware of. 

Some of the safety precautions that we talk about in the article include wearing coveralls when you’re doing the work so that you don’t get all the dust trapped in your favorite t-shirt. While it may be obvious that you shouldn’t wear your favorite clothing for the purpose, some people choose to do it in old clothing that they have lying around at home – that really isn’t our recommendation as that type of clothing doesn’t provide the same level of protection that a professional suit will. You can get them pretty cheap if you look in the right places. The article additionally talks about the appropriate respirator that you need to be wearing for the purpose. 

Should you encapsulate lead paint or have it removed? 

There’s no doubt about it that encapsulation can act as an immediate shield against the dangerous material, but there are definitely a lot of situations where we wouldn’t be encouraging it, simply because you might be better off in the long term actually having it completely addressed. Lots of hairline cracks could simply mean it’s better to abate the paint all together.

While encapsulation may currently help you and your family avoid the dangers that come from exposed and damaged lead paint, all it is is simply a layer of protection on top of old paint – it is not a permanent fix but simply one that will hide the problem for now. If you are planning on selling the home at a later point, you may be thinking that it would be too much money to have it completely abated, but encapsulation is not the end all be all solution either. 

There’s no doubt about it – encapsulation or painting over lead paint is easier and cheaper than it is to have it removed. To a much lesser extent will you have to worry about the release of lead dust into the air but even if you choose to go down that route, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to take necessary precautions to stay safe. 

It’s also important to know that you are not going to use the normal paint that you’re finding at your local hardware store either, as it has to be special paint that is used for it, and if you’re having a contractor do it, do make sure that they are certified RRP contractors that will be taking the necessary steps to do the work as it is supposed to be done. This includes covering everything up with plastic sheeting but also cleaning afterwards using HEPA filters. Additionally, it requires turning off the air filtration system so it doesn’t end up going in there, and making sure that both vents, floors, doors and any surface is covered up that isn’t being used. On top of that, furniture and other objects should be taken out of the house for the project. 

If you have read other articles on the topic, they will point out how encapsulation isn’t just cheaper but it’s also safer, and to that point we want to emphasize that while it may be cheaper, you will eventually have to deal with the issue again when the paint starts deteriorating. Their argument is also that it is safer because there isn’t the same amount of dust that is being released into the air that can end anywhere, and while it’s true that there is more dust that will be released because you’re removing paint, you or the contractor should be taking the adequate measures we mentioned before to make sure that it is not being inhaled, anyway. There is a reason why there are respirators that are made specifically to help with lead and mold, and you won’t be using any of those pieces of cloth that people are wearing during Covid, pretending as if they do anything. These are actual construction grade masks that are made for the purpose. Made to make sure that the filters that you will be using and breathing through is catching that debris and dust that you would otherwise get into the lungs. With the right precautions, both you and the contractor would be safe doing the job, why we’re not necessarily choosing to accept the point that other companies are trying to make that this is supposed to be safer in one way or another. 

At least these websites and companies do suggest that there are times when you can, and times when you can’t encapsulate it. That much we agree on, which I guess is a good thing. In one of the later sections, we’ll talk more on the topic of whether or not it is encouraged that you encapsulate, or whether you should remove it, if we haven’t already made a sufficiently strong case in favor of going the full route and keeping your family safe. 

Would you rather put a bandaid on the wound or would you rather fix the underlying issue why the wound is there, even if it might be more expensive? 

These principles apply whether you’re replacing plaster with something else or doing general remodel at your house.

Dangers of lead paint

While it may seem obvious since you have made it this far into the article, we do find it important to point out that it is a relatively harmful material that you are dealing with if you don’t know what you are doing. It is no joke that it has been banned for residential housing paint more than 40 years ago, and even though it has been that long since its ban, that the EPA has made a lot of effort through its RRP program to minimize the exposure to kids as well as adults. 

It’s no joke that the material was effectively banned in consumer paint in 1992, at which point its use was severely limited. It also isn’t a joke that there are regular toy recalls, usually from foreign manufacturers, that stem from the fact that material has been put in a bunch of toys, which is then causing kids all over the country to fall sick with lead poisoning because they put it in their mouths, because that is what kids do. We’re dealing with a type of material that, while it may have beneficial properties and may be able to significantly improve the durability of certain things, that it also has a bunch of drawbacks.

While people started realizing in the 1950s that this metal may not be all that great for us, the effects caused by the inclusion of the material in various things is still causing unwanted effects throughout society, with kids being the absolutely most exposed from it. If you start looking around the internet, we’re not the only ones that are pointing out just how damaging this is to our society, and how it is still causing social injustice between the rich and the poor. It is no joke that we think that lead is a big contributor when it comes to the dangers of environmental racism within our own country, where public housing often has large amounts of this stuff in the walls. In fact, it is such a big issue that public housing across the country is suffering from it, and given how it is often affecting the poorest parts of the population, we don’t believe that it is anything that any politician will be taking very seriously. While there may be some instances where focus has been drawn to it, like is the case with New York and the Melrose Housing or inner city schools, we don’t anticipate that the nation’s most vulnerable will gain the safety and security that they truly deserve. 

If you don’t get convinced that lead paint is dangerous from reading on our website alone, we hope that you will take the time to also check out other websites that have an opinion on the topic. Search for lead poisoning, and you will see that there are too many of society’s youngest members that are still being tested positive having lead levels in their blood that are significantly higher than they should reasonaly be, because we haven’t been able to properly address the various sources.

You can still choose to encapsulate it rather than remove it, but is it really the best solution? We surely don’t think so. Giving your kids and yourself the best chance at the best life is just what you deserve more than anything. 

When you shouldn’t encapsulate

As we previously mentioned, other websites do point out that there are times when it isn’t ideal to encapsulate. If you have read the previous section, you wouldn’t be surprised to know that that is definitely also our stance, although we take it a bit further than most other sites do. However, the general consensus is still that you shouldn’t be encapsulating when the paint is starting to deteriorate.

It kind of makes sense, but on the other hand there isn’t a whole lot of reason why you should encapsulate it if the paint isn’t deteriorating, because lead paint in good condition isn’t in fact dangerous in and on itself. It’s only when it deteriorates and starts peeling or flaking off that it becomes a health risk because it turns into dust, or the paint chips may end up landing on something that is somehow consumed. While we understand that you may want to paint your walls after 40 years, chances are that it hasn’t actually been all that long since it was done, and if the paint is in good condition, it is in good condition. As other websites specify, when the paint is peeling or flaking, your encapsulation job won’t be able to quite achieve the same result anyway. 

You probably already know that if paint is in bad condition, you will usually need to sand the area or smooth it out before you start painting it, or you will just end up with irregularities in the work. As far as lead paint, bad condition means bad paint job, means no effectiveness.

In fact, other websites that we keep bringing up say that if a surface is either deteriorated, rubbed together, or walked on, encapsulation won’t be the solution. It is always our recommendation that you hire a professional in order to do the job, and that includes someone who has the right RRP certification and knows how to handle lead paint. The RRP certification has specifically been made in order to ensure that lead paint is handled properly, and that includes both protective measures during, and cleaning afterwards. 

Which paints can you use for the purpose?

If you do choose that you want to proceed with the purpose, there are a couple of different types of paint you should know about that may be used. Always make sure that you ask the professional at the store before you proceed, however, as they’ll best be able to help you with the specific type that you’re considering.

The 3 main types include cement-type paints, polymers and epoxy. The disadvantage that the cement-type has is that it will need to be mixed, whereas the two others are more simple to use for your average DIY person, and therefore also the ones that we are recommending on here. 

While it may seem obvious, you should of course check the recommendations provided by the manufacturer to see how the product is best used, and take the necessary precautions that help protect your health. While they’re usually applied with a brush, spray gun or roller, you will need to watch out for damaged paint in the process. 

Please, if there are any parts of the paint that are damaged, do not simply go ahead and do what you would normally do in addressing it, as that is not the solution, but rather seek out our article on removing lead paint, where we address how you should handle if there are certain parts that aren’t in pristine condition. 

Even if you believe that the wall is in good condition, we still urge you to wear the protective clothing and respirator that you would otherwise use.

Working with a pro

Have you decided to use a pro instead of trying to deal with the lead paint yourself? Great! We are happy to hear that you are making what we believe is the safer choice by doing so, and we can only encourage you to now also go out and choose a pro who has the right certifications for the purpose, and not someone who is just going to cut corners, and thereby save themselves and probably you too a little bit of money. 

Trust me when I say that I have heard some crazy stories about homeowners that were working with contractors, and while the home that they were working on would mandate that the RRP regulations should be followed given its age, the contractor they worked with took it to the extreme to avoid both due process, proper lead testing and documentation. We understand that money may be tight on occasion, but the issue is just that if the proper steps aren’t taking, you will likely end up inhaling lead dust as a consequence.

The homeowner we spoke with was working with a contractor who chose to hang carpets in front of the house which made it impossible for other people from the street to see what was going on on the inside. It was in a town that is notorious for old construction, so the chances of there being lead paint in the walls is very high. 

If you’re looking for a contractor, ask them what measures they’re taking in order to ensure protection, both for you, themselves and your property. Skimping on protection, and the job will not pass if there is ever an inspection or the EPA chooses to come by. 

How will contractors skimp? There are different ways that contractors may choose to try and save some money, and while we don’t blame them for wanting to save money, it could cost you and them money in fines if it is discovered. If they even choose to test for the presence of the heavy metal, they may do it with tests that aren’t EPA-approved. They might also not choose to test every surface. Another way for them to skimp and save a little bit could be to use a respirator that isn’t rated for the purpose, or they could choose to reuse the plastic sheeting that is used. While they may use a HEPA vacuum, as they should, to do the cleaning afterwards, there’s a chance that they don’t. If they don’t, then the cleaning simply won’t be what it’s supposed to as the HEPA vacuums have special filters that catch the particles that you shouldn’t be inhaling. If you’re simply wanting to make sure that your home isn’t full of lead, you can buy the kits from us, but there are also dedicated pros out that will rather use an XRF machine to test for lead.

Doing it yourself anyway?

If you are still deciding that the right way to go about this work is by doing it yourself, there are certain things you should be aware of, and we want to make sure that you are taking the adequate measures to keep yourself from unnecessary exposure in old homes.

First of all, you should know that the risk that your home contains lead goes up dramatically the older your home is, and in order to check whether there is a presence or not, the most common test to use is the 3M LeadCheck, which you can find by going to our home page. 

Secondly, you should know that it’s important that you seal off the area that you are working on, preferably with 6mm plastic sheeting as you’re working, and if you’ve read the entire article, it also means everything else has to be taken out of the room, including rugs and furniture. We also encourage you to seal off 5 ft beyond the room you’re working in, although you may be making sure that you’re properly sealing everything already.

If the area that you’re working on doesn’t have a door, but rather just an opening, it’s important that you create a zip solution with the use of ZipWall self-adhesive. That way you make sure that the dust doesn’t leave the room. 

As already mentioned, use a respirator, googles, gloves and coveralls to avoid the dust sticking to your skin, and always wet the area that you are working on which helps minimize the amount of dust in the air. 

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